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Insurers Respond To California Wildfires

As firefighters work to contain the last of several wildfires in Southern California, insurers have deployed CAT vehicles to the region to handle incoming claims and assist affected policyholders.

An insurance emergency has been declared in Southern California by state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner as several fires, the first of which started on November 13, have destroyed close to 1,000 properties in the region. The insurance emergency designation will allow insurers to use out-of-state adjusters to handle incoming claims.

According to Newark, Calif.-based Risk Management Solutions (RMS), over 42,000 acres of land had been burnt and two fires remained active as of Tuesday. A State of Emergency has been declared for Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties.

In a statement, RMS catastrophe response manager Neena Saith said that fires at this time of year are not unusual, with the most recent blazes occurring just after the peak October wildfire season. "The driving force for the initial rapid spread of the fires was the onset of the Santa Ana Winds, combined with warm temperatures and low humidity that kicked in last week," Saith said.

As the fires have spread, insurers have built up resources in the area to handle incoming claims. As of mid-day Sunday, State Farm has deployed two of its Mobile Catastrophe Claims Centers from its Illinois base of operations to the affected areas. Each of those command centers house twelve independent workstations that access policyholder data via satellite, according to a press release.

The Bloomington, Ill.-based insurer has staff stationed at many of the evacuation centers that have been established in the area. In addition, the company reports that many of the over 100 incoming claims it received from affected residents by mid-day Sunday were reported via phone to the carrier's catastrophe claims centers in Dallas and Jacksonville, Fla.

Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance has also deployed its catastrophe response vehicles to the region. One of the carrier's Mobile Command Center (MCC) claims buses has been set up in Sylmar, Calif. That vehicle, Farmers says, is equipped satellite-enabled laptop computers and phones, as well as supplies for those affected by the fires.

Smaller CAT response vehicles have been positioned by Farmers at Katella High School in Anaheim, Calif. and a community center in Brea, Calif., the carrier reported on Sunday.

As of Wednesday morning, firefighters are still working to contain two of the largest fires, both of which are reported to be over 85 percent contained.

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